APS facing federal scrutiny for handling of disabled student

The federal government is investigating alleged discrimination by Albuquerque Public Schools against a student with a disability. The claim involves Michael Bruening, a 16-year-old autistic student who last saw an APS classroom in May 2015, according to his mother, Laura Gutierrez. The school district placed Bruening on homebound instruction, or education at home, but according to Gutierrez hasn’t done enough to support his educational development. Gutierrez, who said she does the bulk of instructing her son now, estimates he’s only attained education levels around the 6th or 7th grade. “I can’t teach him without him blowing up,” she said in a recent interview.

Trump has secretive teams to roll back regulations, led by hires with deep industry ties

President Trump entered office pledging to cut red tape, and within weeks, he ordered his administration to assemble teams to aggressively scale back government regulations. But the effort — a signature theme in Trump’s populist campaign for the White House — is being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts. Most government agencies have declined to disclose information about their deregulation teams. But ProPublica and The New York Times identified 71 appointees, including 28 with potential conflicts, through interviews, public records and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Some appointees are reviewing rules their previous employers sought to weaken or kill, and at least two may be positioned to profit if certain regulations are undone. The appointees include lawyers who have represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups, employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules and at least three people who were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for.

AGs sue U.S. Education Department over delay of debt rule

New Mexico’s Attorney General signed onto a lawsuit against the head of the U.S. Department of Education over rescinding protections for students who borrow money for college. AG Hector Balderas is one of 19 attorneys general from around the country that sued Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over her actions on the Borrower Defense Rule, an Obama-era rule aimed at protecting students who borrowed money from debt at colleges guilty of misconduct. The attorneys general are asking a court to order the Education Department to enforce the rule. The rule came, in large part, because of the collapse of Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit college whose students had an extremely high default rate on student loans. Heald College, one of the Corinthians College schools, was eventually fined nearly $30 million by the federal Department of Education for misleading statements about employment rates of graduates.

Heinrich, Udall slam Education Department’s civil rights division changes

New Mexico’s U.S. senators say that U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos does not support civil rights or oppose discrimination. Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both Democrats, signed onto a letter to the secretary telling her “your actions belie your assurances” on these issues. The letter cited her ties to a prominent anti-LGBTQ group and her appointment of staff who oppose a 2011 Title IX Guidance on sexual assault.The two highlighted her ties to the Family Research Council, a Washington D.C. organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center calls an anti-LGBT extremist group, and contrasts her relationship with the group with testimony she gave in front of a Senate committee. “In testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, you attempted to distance yourself from your family’s giving to organizations such as the Family Research Council, which promote intolerant views of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming Americans and others,” the senators wrote. “Yet, on June 15, 2017, the Family Research Council participated in an official event on engaging fathers in students’ education at the Department.”

The two also criticized DeVos’ Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson.

Trump administration quietly rolls back civil rights efforts across federal government

For decades, the Department of Justice has used court-enforced agreements to protect civil rights, successfully desegregating school systems, reforming police departments, ensuring access for the disabled and defending the religious. Now, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the DOJ appears to be turning away from this storied tool, called consent decrees. Top officials in the DOJ civil rights division have issued verbal instructions through the ranks to seek settlements without consent decrees — which would result in no continuing court oversight. The move is just one part of a move by the Trump administration to limit federal civil rights enforcement. Other departments have scaled back the power of their internal divisions that monitor such abuses.

DeVos pick to head civil rights office once said she faced discrimination for being white

The new acting head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights once complained that she experienced discrimination because she is white. As an undergraduate studying calculus at Stanford University in the mid-1990s, Candice Jackson “gravitated” toward a section of the class that provided students with extra help on challenging problems, she wrote in a student publication. Then she learned that the section was reserved for minority students. “I am especially disappointed that the University encourages these and other discriminatory programs,” she wrote in the Stanford Review. “We need to allow each person to define his or her own achievements instead of assuming competence or incompetence based on race.”

House bill calling for $2M in tuition aid for preschool teachers advances

A measure that would provide $2 million in tuition assistance for preschool teachers to further their education advanced in the state House on Wednesday, with unanimous approval from lawmakers on the Education Committee. The money, which would come from the state’s general fund, would help retain early childhood educators and allow them to command higher wages, said the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences. “This is directly tied to the quality of [the early childhood education] staff,” Dow said during Wednesday’s hearing on House Bill 135. She said the vast majority of educators who would benefit from the bill are women and minorities. A 2016 report by the U.S. departments of Education and Health and Human Services said preschool teachers in the U.S. earn an average of $28,570, far less than the average salary of a kindergarten teacher — over $51,000 — and less than the wages of waiters, janitors and pest-control workers.

Attorneys General come down on accreditor of for-profit colleges

Twelve state attorneys general have asked the federal Department of Education to revoke the recognition of the much-criticized Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. If ACICS loses recognition, the many for-profit schools that it accredits could be cut off from the federal student aid that makes up the majority of their income. The letter cited reporting from ProPublica that found that students at schools accredited by ACICS were worse off than students at other schools. At a typical ACICS-accredited college, only 35 percent of students graduate, the lowest rate of any accreditor. The national graduation rate is around 59 percent.

NM special ed funding problems run deep

As a report from the New Mexico State Auditor’s Office reaffirmed, New Mexico has had serious problems with funding special education in recent years. But the state’s ongoing struggles with special education go deeper than the audit, which found the state underfunded special education by $110 million from 2010-2012. Throughout the years, state lawmakers have clashed with Gov. Susana Martinez on how to fix the problem. The issue goes back to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), a landmark federal law passed in the 1970s that mandated public education access to special-needs students. Part of the law requires every state increase special education money each year or keep it level from the year before to make sure each special needs student services are met.

Audit: NM underfunded special ed students

New Mexico underfunded special education by $110 million over three years, according to a report released today from State Auditor Tim Keller. In a letter to the chairmen of the state Legislative Finance Committee and the Legislative Education Study Committee, Keller says that the consequences could jeopardize future money from the federal government to pay for special education. Keller also said in a statement that the audit shows “serious shortcomings in our state’s ability to serve special education students, who are some of the most vulnerable participants in our education system and deserve better.”

His letter adds that the funding problems stem from “material weakness and significant deficiencies” within the state Public Education Department. Every year, the state is expected to fund special education at a certain level to qualify for federal money under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). That certain amount of money is typically called the “maintenance of effort,” or MOE.